BRKeenan & Associates, LLC

Great Work Groups: Q#1 “I know what is expected of me at work”

Expectations #12

In last week’s blog, I introduced Gallup’s excellent survey, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (1999), which posed twelve key factors which differentiate great work groups from the dross.  Over the next 12 blogs, I will review each of the 12 factors in more detail.

But first, Gallup’s key discovery: There are no great companies. There are only great work groups.

We tend to think about a company (or a division thereof) in the macro, in its entirety.  But employees don’t work with the company or division in the macro or at the entity level but at their particular work group level.  While compensation, benefits and perks (e.g., parking, cafeteria discounts) certainly matter, these factors do not distinguish the great from the only ordinary work groups since such factors are generally available as an overall company strategy.  Rather positive responses to Gallup’s 12 questions differentiate the great from the rest.

To be clear, great work groups have four key dimensions: employee retention, customer satisfaction, productivity, and profitability.

As we all know, employees at the same company can have completely different experiences.  When I worked at Amoco, it was often the case that I and my fellow employees hated our current job because we hated our current boss or work group.  During such times, our mantra was: “Hang on for another year or two and hopefully the next transfer will get us out of our current misery.”  Often it did.  In large corporations, moving from work group to work group is a possibility, but in smaller companies, there may be no other possible work group.  The work group itself must improve.

Question #1: “I know what is expected of me at work.

Goals and milestones are the cornerstone of measuring progress.  What we measures improves.  But, many milestones are not easily measured and can thus lead to unclear expectations.  If expectations are not clear, employees might be hesitant, indecisive, and unsure of taking actions.

The idea of setting clear expectations is not a new concept. However, there is a difference between setting clear expectations and micro-managing every aspect of a job.  If a manager details out every single steps, he or she is essentially saying, “I am the smartest person in the room.  Mindlessly jump through my hoops and you will meet my expectations.” As Russia so ably proved, centralized management of an economy is an epic failure – no one is that smart or competent.  A similar (albeit smaller) argument can be made for the work group, especially since the dictation of every step can reduce employee self-worth and self-confidence (“I’m just a robot”), impair quality output (“I did exactly what you told me to do”) and shun the incredible “Wisdom of the Crowd” potential.  If defining steps is the manager’s agenda, then setting expectations reduces to employee control rather how maximizing productive output from a diverse employee group.

But, managers are held accountable for team performance.  So how do great manager set expectations without controlling or micromanaging their employees? By clearly defining the expected outcomes, and then letting the employees discover their own route toward efficient and effective outcomes.  Such managers successfully negotiate the Charybdis of performance objectives and the Scylla of employee morale and development.  When an employee is empowered by clear expectations to discovery his or her own work style and strengths, better outcomes will emerge.
Without a doubt, every job has a certain number of required steps associated with it, some more than others.  And yes, with too much freelancing, an employee might build a rocket when all that was desired was a rocking chair.  So, it is a balancing act where every manager should constantly ask: do the required steps support clear expectations and outcomes?  More often than not, the steps actually obscure the desired outcome, such that activity itself becomes the sole goal and purpose in the employee’s mind.  Thus, whenever possible good managers avoid micro-managing action plans and let their employees take responsibility, feeling the tension and thrill of a requirement to achieve X or Y.


Brett R. Keenan is a CFO/General Counsel for Small Businesses, Business and Executive Coach, and author of “Small Business 101: From Start-up to Success”.  Based in Chicago IL, BRKeenan & Associates has helped numerous large and small companies succeed, focusing on Finance, Law, Strategy and Operations since 1999.

©BRKeenan & Associates, LLC. February 2015